CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Prospect status in the game of baseball is fragile and unpredictable.
A reminder of that walked down the tunnel from the visiting clubhouse and sat in the first-base dugout at Spectrum Field late Saturday morning.
Jesse Biddle had come back to the place where it all started.
He still had that friendly smile and effervescent personality. But the uniform was different and the elbow had a surgical scar on it.
Now a member of the Atlanta Braves organization, the former Phillies first-round draft pick made the trip to Clearwater and for the first time since August 13, 2015 -- the night the elbow pain became too much to bear -- pitched an inning in a competitive game.
It all seemed just a little surreal that Biddle's first game since having surgery on October 14, 2015, came against the organization that he spent six sometimes hopeful, sometimes frustrating seasons with, but as the left-hander, now 25, pointed out, "It's just one of those things. The baseball world is pretty funny that way."
The Phillies sent Biddle to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a nondescript trade in February 2016 and he was claimed on waivers by the Braves a couple of months later. For days, he'd known that the schedule called for him to pitch Saturday, but he was unsure whether it would be at home against the Marlins or on the road against the Phillies. He found out Friday that he'd be making the trip to Clearwater and was elated.
"At the end of the day I just want to pitch in a game for the first time in a long time," he said. "But I was definitely rooting for this one, for sure.
"I feel really good and I'm excited to face these red jerseys, for sure."
Biddle engaged in some light-hearted "trash-talking" via text with former teammate Tommy Joseph on Friday night and as if on cue, Joseph was the first hitter that Biddle faced since that night 18 months ago when his elbow throbbed and he was throwing 83 mph for the Phillies' Triple A team.
Biddle walked Joseph on five pitches then came back and struck out Dylan Cozens on a 93 mph fastball and Aaron Altherr on a 94 mph fastball. He ended his inning of work by getting J.P. Crawford on a groundout.
It was a very nice outing for any pitcher, never mind one with a surgically repaired elbow pitching for the first time in a year and half.
Cozens and Crawford are what Biddle used to be -- top prospects with the Phillies.
Prospects excite the imagination of fans. The excitement that followed Biddle during his time in the Phillies' system had a little extra electricity because he was a local kid who had grown up in Mount Airy, who had attended the 2008 World Series as a fan, who had pitched at Germantown Friends and who had been selected by his hometown team with the 27th overall pick in the 2010 draft.
He topped out in Triple A with the club in 2015, his path to Citizens Bank Park blocked by poor control and the elbow injury.
Biddle said he was surprised when the Phillies traded him, but he came to terms with it quickly.
"Once I got (to Pittsburgh) and I actually put on a different uniform, I realized that there are 29 other teams and that there are a lot of really good coaches out there and a lot of places that I'm happy to be part of," he said. "And now I've found my way to the Braves and it feels like home, really. It's been a really nice journey and I'm glad I found my way here."
It's never easy for a highly touted young player to succeed in his hometown. The expectations are high from the start. Add in the presence of family and friends living and breathing on every pitch and the expectations can be smothering.
But Biddle said the pressures of trying to succeed at home were never a problem for him.
"Honestly, the more I look back on it the more I realize it was just like anywhere else," he said. "Obviously it was a little different for me playing minor-league baseball and having friends and family be able to come to every game, but I really don’t believe it dictated anything that happened while I was here.
"I think that any love and support that I got was just friends and family being friends and family and I couldn’t have asked for anything different from the Phillies or anything different from my support system.
"It ended up working out the way it did and there are no hard feelings anywhere. I'm really happy with where I'm at and I know the Phillies' organization is looking really good right now."
The Braves have shown faith in Biddle. They claimed him on waivers a year ago, put him on their 40-man roster and paid him the major-league minimum salary of $507,500 even though they knew he wouldn't throw a pitch in 2016. They viewed him as a lottery ticket, a still-young pitcher with raw talent that had a chance to put it together.
Biddle spent all of last year at the Braves' facility in Florida, rehabbing his elbow after Tommy John surgery. The Braves will continue to go slow with him for the next few months. He will get his innings in the minors and, who knows, might still end up pitching at Citizens Bank Park someday, just not with the team he originally dreamed of representing.
"Honestly, I just want to play major league baseball," Biddle said. "And I want to play for the Braves."